You know it’s going to be a lunatic public meeting if it involves Monterey Peninsula water issues. You also know it’s going to be a lunatic public meeting about Monterey Peninsula water issues when it starts just minutes after the staff of the California Coastal Commission has posted a 110-page report in which it recommends the commissioners deny coastal development permits for the wells that would supply California American Water’s proposed desalination plant.
“This is bad,” said one of the guys sitting behind me in the meeting room of Monterey One Water. “This is a disaster,” said another.
“Should we tell the judge?” said yet another.
I don’t know exactly which of the guys sitting behind me said which particular line, but I was sitting in front of former state Real Estate Commissioner Jeff Davi, former hotelier John Narigi and Monterey County Farm Bureau Executive Director Norm Groot. Statler & Waldorf, the two grumpy puppets who provided running snarky commentary on The Muppet Show, had nothing on those guys.
The judge one of them referenced is John Phillips, a retired judge turned Monterey County supervisor, who sits on the board of Monterey One Water. And Phillips, along with Del Rey Oaks’ appointee to M1W, City Councilmember John Gaglioti, were the reason I schlepped to a water meeting in the first place.
On Oct. 28, the board was to consider and discuss the timing of the public release of the Supplemental Environmental Impact Report for the Pure Water Monterey Expansion Project. It’s a wonky and unwieldy name for a wonky and unwieldy document, but in essence, here’s what it means.
Pure Water Monterey is a wastewater recycling project of M1W. The plan is to take municipal sewage, water used to wash produce at Salinas Valley produce packing operations, agricultural runoff and even storm drainage, treat it and recycle it back into the drinking supply.
There’s nobody who isn’t behind the recycled water project, it’s the expansion they are arguing about, and the timing of the release of the document detailing that expansion. Those who have championed Cal Am’s desal plan like the expansion as a backup to desal, and those who are opposed to Cal Am’s desal plan like it as an alternative to desal.
But there’s a huge divide between the Cal Am champions and opponents, and Gaglioti and Phillips are firmly on the champion side. So much so that Gaglioti proposed that M1W wait until after the Coastal Commission’s Nov. 14 meeting to release the document, out of fear that desal opponents would “weaponize” it. And Phillips proposed a motion to make it clear that Pure Water is a backup to desal, not an alternative.
Gaglioti, in essence, is a public representative advocating for withholding a public document from the public until after another public agency makes a decision, also in public. Phillips wanted to remind everyone that desal should come first.
It was standing room only as people lined up, one by one, to decry or champion what Gaglioti and Phillips proposed.
“Releasing this SEIR will be absolutely politicized,” Gaglioti said, as the audience laughed.
In the midst of the noise, there was some good common sense. Monterey Peninsula Water Management District board chair Molly Evans pointed out that her agency is funding the lion’s share of the Pure Water expansion, and that her agency is not an ATM.
“As your partner, I feel we should have been consulted about this possible delay,” Evans said. “I was taken aback. This decision has now been politicized. Any delay not on the consultant’s part is a political delay. By delaying this project it shows you’re not taking it seriously.”
Melodie Chrislock, director of Cal Am takeover proponent Public Water Now, pointed out that it’s not up to the board to decide Cal Am’s fate.
“The Coastal Commission is going to do that,” she said. “And it looks like you’re gonna need a backup plan.”
Gaglioti’s motion was pulled because of the release of Coastal Commission report, but Phillips’ motion – to define the expansion project as a backup – passed 6-4.
MARY DUAN writes Local Spin for Monterey County Weekly. Reach her at email@example.com or follow her at twitter.com/maryrduan. Staff writer Asaf Shalev contributed to this report.